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Why happiness is healthy

A review of research found a link between well-being and heart health

Elizabeth Landau | 3/20/2014, noon
Happiness -- you know it when you see it, but it's hard to define.
The United Nations declared March 20, 2014, the International Day of Happiness. Sonia Kose/CNN

— Or maybe you'll be happier once you've lived longer. Research has also found that some sense of happiness may come with age.

Older adults may be able to better regulate their emotions than younger people, expose themselves to less stress and experience less negative emotion, Susan Turk Charles, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, told CNN in 2009. More science needs to be done on whether the diminished negative response is also associated with a feeling of happiness.

Happiness: Living in the moment

But what about right now -- what can we do to make ourselves feel more positive?

If you're seeking to increase your own sense of happiness, try mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness means being present and in the moment, and observing in a nonjudgmental way, Susan Albers, psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told CNN in 2010.

Mindfulness comes from Buddhism and is key to meditation in that tradition. Therapies for a wide variety of conditions, including eating disorders, depression and PTSD, incorporate mindfulness. Focusing on the here and now is a counterbalance to findings that mind-wandering is associated with unhappiness.

Activities such as keeping a gratitude diary and helping other people are also associated with feelings of well-being, Kubzansky said.

A variety of smartphone apps are also available that claim to help you monitor and enhance your moods. But don't feel you have to face emotional challenges alone; a professional therapist can help you get to where you want to be.

If a sense of well-being makes a healthier person, then policy-makers should also promote large-scale initiatives to encourage that, Kubzansky said. Creating parks to encourage exercise and insituting flexible work-family initiatives are just some of the ways that communities can become healthier as a whole.

So remember: A glass half full might be healthier than a glass half empty.

What do you do to help yourself feel happy? Tell us in the comments.

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